After all the build up, India and England will finally kick off the five-Test series beginning with the
After all the build up, India and England will finally kick off the five-Test series beginning with the first match at Rajkot on Wednesday. It has been mentioned numerous times before that, on current form, India will go in as favourites. On the eve of the Test, nothing has changed. The hosts go into the series on the back of a 3-0 thrashing they handed to New Zealand in familiar conditions. Prior to that, they also tasted excellent success against the Proteas, so they should be high on confidence. England, on the other hand, were held to a 1-1 draw by Bangladesh, being beaten inside three days in rather embarrassing fashion.
While the first match will mark the debut of Rajkot as a Test venue, it is also likely to be the debut for at least one of the youngsters. Considering the injury to Rohit Sharma, the number six batting slot could go to the talented Karun Nair if India opt for a direct swap. Alternately, Hardik Pandya is also in the frame. The all-rounder, who was a surprise selection in the first place, could get a look-in, in case India look for extra pace, along with someone who can bat as well. But, looking at the conditions at Rajkot, there are greater chances of Nair getting a look in, as opposed to Pandya. It will be interesting to see who plays.
Like has been the case in the previous series' at home, India will again bank on their spinners to do the trick. Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja both were rested for the one-dayers against New Zealand. As such, they should be fresh and raring to go. Ashwin has been in spectacular form of late, and he will be expected to carry on the great form against the English as well. Jadeja too has been the perfect foil for him at home. Keeping the spin twins at bay will be the biggest challenge for the England batsman. India are actually spoilt for choice in the bowling department as of now. Amit Mishra is in the team as the third spinner, and they have Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma in the pace ranks.
India's batting will be slightly weak in the absence of regular batsmen. This is something England will look to exploit. With Lokesh Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan both ruled out, Gautam Gambhir automatically enters into the fray as the opening partner of Murali Vijay. But, the left hander will be under pressure for sure. Gambhir knows he just cannot afford to fail. In the absence of some of the key players, more will be expected out of the trio of skipper Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane. They are slowly but gradually becoming the big three of India's batting.
For England, it could all come down to how to they tackle the Indian spinners, as has been the case with visiting teams in recent times. They do have some seasoned players in the form of skipper Alastair Cook and Joe Root. But, they would need support from the rest. 19-year-old Haseeb Hameed is all set to make his debut as an opener. It would be nothing short of baptism with fire. Youngsters like Ben Duckett, Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow will be tested under the conditions. In the bowling, England will miss James Anderson at Rajkot, but Ben Stokes and Stuart Broad would be expected to raise their game. Whether that will be enough is what remains to be seen.